Oral health is a reflection of overall health status. Nationally, dental decay is the most common chronic disease in children with prevalence rates five times higher than asthma. Dental decay is not self-resolving, yet preventive measures exist that are nearly 100 percent effective in eliminating dental decay. In Colorado, an estimated 7.8 million hours of school are lost annually due to acute dental problems.
In a 2003-2004 oral health screening of kindergarten and third grade children throughout the state, 29 percent in both age groups were found to have untreated tooth decay. More than 60 percent had decay experience, yet only 34 percent of third graders had protective sealants on first permanent molars. Almost 31 percent of the kindergarten children and 40 percent of third graders needed dental treatment, including six percent in need of urgent dental care because of pain or infection.
While the incidence of tooth decay has markedly improved over the last 50 years, dental decay remains a disease of poverty. Children in schools with greater than 50 percent participation in free and reduced lunch programs suffer disproportionately. Nearly twice as many low-income children had untreated decay and decay experience as children in higher income schools. Low-income children were three times more likely to need urgent care for pain and infection.
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